WASHINGTON — Representative William R. Keating, on a fact-finding mission to Russia ahead of the Winter Olympic Games, pressed officials Monday to cooperate more fully with US agents investigating one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect’s militant ties in southern Russia.
The Bourne Democrat, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, arrived in Moscow for a second time since the April attacks. He met with Russian agencies that had tracked Tamerlan Tsarnaev and that warned US counterparts he was trying to join militant groups targeting Russia.
While it does not appear that the Cambridge resident took up arms with one of those groups when he traveled to his family’s native region of Dagestan, Keating said, he believes it is imperative to understand his interactions with Islamic radicals there before he returned to the United States.
“I do believe he wanted to participate” in the war against Russia,’ Keating said. “He had tried before, but he wasn’t successful.”
In a telephone interview from Moscow, Keating, a former state prosecutor, said he met with Russian security officials and what he described as “contacts’’ he made on his first trip last year.
Keating said he hopes that by understanding the full extent of the Russian links to the Marathon case, US counterterrorism officials might be better able to thwart that type of homegrown threat in the future. The Marathon bombings killed three people and injured hundreds at the Copley Square finish line on April 15.
“That remains the great threat,” Keating said of homegrown militancy. “The radical lone wolf or small group of one or two. That is the type of threat the Boston Marathon was. And it is going to continue to be a great threat. It is disconcerting because it remains the hardest threat to thwart.”
Tsarnaev, the older brother of suspected accomplice Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was killed in a shootout with police four days after attacks. Dzhokhar, who was captured, is awaiting federal trial in Boston.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a legal US resident.
In his Moscow meetings, Keating said, he learned more about how the myriad militant groups in the Caucuses region recruit foot soldiers, especially foreign citizens.
“The [militant recruitment] process in the Caucasus is one vetted over months,” he said the Russians told him.
Keating, who also had discussions with members of the FBI’s Moscow branch, said the US and Russian governments have worked pretty well together on the Marathon case, but he acknowledged that the cooperation does not extend to other areas of counterterrorism.
For example, Keating and others have raised concerns about the sharing of Russian intelligence on potential threats to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, which is near the restive Caucasus region.
“When it comes to other areas of cooperation, it isn’t there,” Keating said of the Russians.
Keating is traveling with the House panel’s chairman, Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas. They are scheduled to travel next to Sochi to assess security preparations for the Olympics, including a visit to a joint control center that is helping to coordinate security.
“We are concerned first and foremost with the safety of American athletes,” Keating said.
The Olympics are scheduled Feb. 7 to 23.
Security analysts are deeply concerned that the Islamic militants, who have claimed responsibility for a spate of bombings and suicide attacks in the region, will carry out their threats to attack the Games and athletes from participating countries.
“I would say there is a serious threat, and I believe our intelligence community is on edge as well,” said Craig Douglas Albert, a political science professor at Georgia Regents University who specializes in the Caucasus. “If you add everything together of recent weeks, it does not bode well.”
Russia is mobilizing some 40,000 soldiers and security personnel and has established a 1,500-mile security zone around Sochi.
Keating said one of the lawmakers’ objectives this week is to identify any additional resources that US security officials may need to deal with a potential attack or natural disaster during the Games.
The Pentagon said in a statement Monday that US commanders in the region are preparing to supply security support to Russia if it is required.
Air and naval support, including two Navy ships in the Black Sea, will be available if requested, it said.Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.